Monthly Archives: April 2018

(More) reading on the history of natural history

Image: Chamaeleon, from Arcana, or, the Museum of Natural History (1811) by Thomas, Lord Busby (1811).  Which has nothing to do with the four books reviewed here; I just like the illustration.

Research for my new book has me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Among the books, some are new, some are old; some are well known, some are obscure.  Here are four more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.  (There were six more in the first post in this series, here.)

Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of the Birds of America (Souder 2004, North Point Press).  This book, like its subject, is utterly fascinating.  I knew nothing about Audubon other than being familiar with his famous bird prints.  I assumed, somehow, that he was an upper-class gentleman with a distinguished family history.  In fact, he was a newcomer, born in Haiti and raised in France, and something of a ne’er-do-well: a serial exaggerator if not an outright liar, an atrociously poor businessman, and yet somehow an inspired artist who reinvented the depiction of natural history.  Continue reading

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Collegial governance and crickets in the meeting room

Image: Two-spotted tree cricket singing, © Patrick Coin CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Warning: a little bit grumpy.

I’ve just come back from a highly successful Departmental retreat: high turnout, engaged faculty and staff, and some genuine problem-solving.  But just as a sidewalk sighting of Manute Bol might make me realize that some of my friends are rather short, our successful retreat reminded me of a weird but not altogether surprising thing about university faculty.  That thing: everyone loves collegial governance, right up until somebody calls a meeting.

As a general rule, university academics feel very strongly about collegial governance. Continue reading

Are there really “only so many ways to write the Methods”?

Image: Gustav Flaubert, portrait by Eugène Giraud (1806-1881), via wikimedia.org. Public domain.  I bet you’re wondering why he’s relevant. All in good time…

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an old chestnut: whether you can, or should, reuse blocks of text when you write a new Methods section describing methods you’ve already published.  My suggestion that you generally can’t, and that often when you can you shouldn’t, raised a predictable number of people to a high dudgeon.  I won’t rehash that here, except for one objection that’s both common and interesting.  It’s this: the claim that “there are only so many ways you can write we prepared a one molar solution of KNO3*”.

This claim achieves an interesting trifecta:  it’s simultaneously irrelevant, false, and important. Continue reading

Can a thesis chapter be coauthored?

Image credit: S. Heard.  Hand models: Ken Dearborn, Allyson Heustis (thanks!).

 

Of course.  Most are, and that’s perfectly appropriate.  But some interesting issues arise. Continue reading

Do you really have to rewrite your Methods for every new paper?

Image: Recycling logo by gustavorezende, released to public domain

Warning: long post.  There’s a TL;DR in the Summary at the end.

Is recycling Methods text from an old paper, to use in a new paper that applies the same techniques, efficient writing – or self-plagiarism?

We’ve all had the dilemma.  You write two papers that use (at least some of) the same methods.  For the first paper, you craft a lovely, succinct, clear explanation of those methods.  For the second paper, you’d like to just cut-and-paste the Methods text from the first one.  Can you?  And should you? Continue reading